The old argument
that Duncan was too insular to be an effective leader has turned out to be
upside-down wrong. Duncan is still quiet, yes, but his stoicism has only
strengthened the Spurs' faith in him; in turn, he has been emboldened and now
speaks up more often. "I can honestly say that I feel more comfortable in
saying what I have to say," says Duncan, who even while he was winning MVP
awards in 2002 and '03 preferred not to raise his voice. "I feel that
people respect what I have to say, and that is a big part of it, being
confident in that."
When his fellow
Spurs look to Duncan, they know that he isn't looking down his nose at them in
return. "I've never seen him get on one of his teammates in the games we've
played, and we've played a lot," says longtime Jazz assistant Phil Johnson.
"I only see complimentary things."
encouragement has empowered everyone from Parker and Gin�bili to Bruce Bowen, a
former journeyman who has become the league's top perimeter defender and
three-point specialist. "He's a guy who leads not just by example but by
being supportive and empathetic and nonjudgmental with teammates, to the point
where the trust they have with him is quite significant," says Popovich.
" Tim Duncan touching you on the back of the head or putting his arm around
you on his way into a timeout or leaning over and saying something to you
during a timeout is huge. He knows that the attention from him to his teammates
is just monstrous in their development and their self-confidence, and that
recognition has made him the leader that he is."
The Spurs are
12--2 in playoff series over the last five years in no small part because
Duncan's stability and versatility have enabled them to get the most out of
complementary pieces, such as swingmen Michael Finley and center Fabricio
Oberto. But Duncan was reminded how lucky he was to come to San Antonio by a
recent Sporting News cover that showed him in a Boston Celtics uniform,
illustrating a story about how the league might have changed had the Celtics
won the 1997 draft lottery. "I was fortunate--as fortunate as the Spurs--to
land where I did," he says, citing the ownership of Peter Holt, the
stewardship of Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford, even the quality of
the facilities in San Antonio as positives. "It's not guaranteed if I did
go somewhere else that I would have won a championship. Maybe things being
different, I never get to that point, because people don't prepare, people
don't draft, people don't put teams together the right way, people don't coach
the right way. So I'm absolutely blessed having the situation that I'm
during a dead ball and he will reveal the secret of how someone who still says
so little can wield so much influence. Instead of looking around to admire the
view of 18,000 people flattering him with their taunts or praise, he draws
within himself, blotting out the noise and taking account of what he needs to
do better when play resumes. If Duncan appears blinkered and self-possessed,
it's because he has a lot of people depending on him. And coming through for
them really isn't as easy as he makes it look.